Fedora is something straight out of a New York City fairytale. A cross between a speakeasy and a tavern, it's a welcoming space nestled in the heart of the West Village, a neighborhood that still feels like it must have 50 years ago when Bob Dylan was singing about this quaint street.
The first restaurant to inhabit this space opened in 1917; it was eventually taken over by Fedora Dorato and her husband in the early 1950s who turned it into a neighborhood Italian-red-sauce staple. Fedora managed and bartended here well into to her eighties, often leaving a bottle on the bar for the patrons to serve themselves. Today, a portrait of her, open-armed, sits behind the bar, offering a welcome still felt many years later.
Fedora's newest chapter began in 2011, when Gabriel Stulman took over, marrying the restaurant's trademark warmth with a modern, fresh approach to dining.
We came by on a Sunday afternoon as the restaurant prepped for dinner service. We were lucky enough to join in on the staff meal—what was it—where Chef de cuisine Bob Moren filled us in on the ritual.
"When I was a young, broke cook living in San Francisco, I lived off staff meals, so I know their importance. When I could scrounge enough money together for a meal out in those days, I'd go to a Thai place I used to love. They did this Panang Curry. I would go in, order my food, use the bathroom, take the toilet paper, and talk to the cute girls who worked there. Then I would go home and eat my curry and try to stretch the dish out to two meals. Tonight’s staff meal is based on that curry."
"We have a staff meal shelf with items we keep for upcoming meals. We put excess product here or anything we think could work for a meal in the future. At the start of a shift, I speak with the other chefs and we put our minds together and come up with an idea for what we're going to serve that day."
"It's really important for us to serve a really good meal. This also trickles down from the owner, who demands a high standard for what is served purely from a humanistic perspective. We want think about how this food will sit with our staff over their shift. We also try to mix it up so they aren’t eating the same food every day."
"There's a recipe for success with restaurants, and it's all about being very calculated about what you’re doing, and having good communication. The guests' experience should be orchestrated by professionals who want them to experience the best hospitality they can offer, and who like what they do. We don’t hire anyone who doesn’t enjoy what they're doing."
"At 4pm every day, the servers get together with me and the manager and go over our line-up notes. We go into more depth than most restaurants I know—this is our ‘pre-game show.’ We discuss menu changes, shortages, and specials, and make sure everyone is informed of how things are going to unfold. We want feedback on specials. We want to know how things were received by the guests the night before and whether anything could help make things run smoother."
"Then, at 4:30, family meal is served. Everyone gets a 30 minute break so they can do what they want—they could go out and get their own thing, but I don’t want that to happen."
Panang Curry and cucumber salad
Gabriel Stulman - Owner
Bob Moren - Chef de Cusine
Danielle Stulman - General Manager
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